A Scrapbook of Bird Identifications (America and Canada)
What I have learned about identifying birds comes from photographing them in the wild and then
pouring over field guides at home looking to match field marks. This can be quite a frustrating
enterprise because, well... birds can be flighty. So I'd like to start this scrapbook with
a warning: some of the shots in here are terrible; but just good enough to show important field marks
that are key to correct identification. It's not always the bird's fault, but as I acquire better photos, I
promise I'll replace the bad ones.
Personally, I think it takes a long time to get to know the "official" families of birds. So I
tend to categorize them in the interest of dividing and conquering. Accordingly, I have separated them into
"land" and "water" birds based on where they hang out.
Within each group, some seem to belong together
based on behavior or approximate size, while for others it just pays to get to know their families
because they share so many behavioral characteristics, and a number of distinguishing field marks as well.
I have used a few of the technical terms for bird facial "parts" because they are so... well, useful. These include:
- supercilium - line above the eye
- lores - area between eye and bill
- auriculars - area immediately below/behind eye
- malar - area between auriculars and throat
In the photo at right, the supercilium (as well as the crown) is buffy, the lores are yellow,
the auriculars (and breast) are gray and the malar is white (as is the throat).
For each grouping below, I have given a few characteristics which they have in common, and a
representative photo or two. Each sub-group links to a separate page with photos for those members
that I have (I believe correctly) identified, along with the field marks that helped me.
In some cases, I have attempted to describe their songs
(for those few I have heard enough to learn), but beware: descriptions of bird calls are notoriously
hard to translate from someone else's ear to yours!
Here is a table of shortcuts to those pages if you've been here before
and want to get right to it:
I developed this scrapbook to help me identify "new" birds, and I hope that you will find it useful too!
If you have any questions or comments, please contact me at
"Land" Birds - specific families
Flycatchers, not surprisingly, catch insects while on the wing. They come in (roughly) two types based
on size and general appearance.
For example, the smaller Eastern Phoebe:
and the larger Eastern Kingbird:
Hummingbirds are unique; a typical example is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird:
Owls too are unmistakable, and while mostly nocturnal, can be seen during the day. The Barred Owl is
Raptors can be easily recognized by the deadly nature of their bills and claws.
They include the smaller accipiters (which typically hunt smaller birds), like the Cooper's Hawk:
the kites, the larger buteos (which typically hunt rodents), such as the Red-tailed Hawk:
the falcons and the vultures, like the Turkey Vulture:
Many sparrows can be seen at feeders, though they are by nature mostly ground foragers. They are small,
and typically have thick bills (good for cracking seeds open), like the Chipping Sparrow:
Swallows are small, have forked tails, fly very fast (often over water) catching insects on the wing,
and can often be seen in large numbers on telephone wires.
The easiest swallow to spot is the Tree Swallow:
Vireos are small and look much alike, many having "eye lines" or "spectacles", and all have gray legs.
A good example is the Red-eyed Vireo:
Warblers are small birds with thin bills for catching and eating small insects. In the fall,
many of them look alike, giving rise to the expression "confusing fall warblers". In spring,
they can be absolutely gorgeous, like the Common YellowThroat:
Woodpeckers are another unique family. A common visitor to feeders is the Downy Woodpecker:
Wrens are small birds which usually have their tails cocked up behind their backs, like this Carolina Wren:
"Land" Birds - grouped by behavior or size
These are birds that are easy to see at most bird feeders (that are not in other families or groups);
for instance, the Carolina Chickadee:
A number of birds spend most of their time foraging on the ground; this group is for those that
are not in specific families above. A good example is the Mourning Dove:
Woodpeckers climb trees, but so do birds like the White-breasted Nuthatch:
By small, I mean around six inches or less from the tip of the bill to the tip of the tail.
A typical small bird is the Eastern Bluebird:
Somewhat arbitrarily, I have chosen to use the word medium for birds whose tip-to-tip measurements
are between about six inches and one foot. A common example would be the European Starling:
A typical member of this group is the Blue Jay:
These are birds that are usually found in meadows or open fields, like the Eastern Meadowlark:
Game birds include quail and grouse and the Wild Turkey:
"Water" Birds - specific families
"Water" Birds - grouped by behavior
Here I'm informally extending the usual usage of the term "dabbling duck" to include any bird that
swims in the water and dips its head (or half of its body) into the water to feed. Geese and swans and the
ubiquitous Mallard are in my group of "dabblers":
Likewise I'm including with the diving ducks such birds as the Anhinga, cormorants, grebes and loons.
A typical member of this group is the Ring-necked Duck:
A variety of families include birds that dive into the water from flight in order to catch fish. Terns
do this, as do the Brown Pelican and the Belted Kingfisher:
This group also includes a number of families such as the plovers and the sandpipers. A common
example is the Lesser Yellowlegs:
I'm using this category to include birds that forage while swimming but don't dabble, such as the
American White Pelican:
Waders include such birds as the egrets, heron and ibis. The most common member of this group is the
Great Blue Heron:
This is another of my "catch-all" groups for wetlands birds that don't necessarily wade, such as the
Common Galinule (formerly called the Common Morehen):
Click on any of the links above to see more pictures of (and some comments about
identifying) birds in that group. Learning to identify birds takes a lot of patience and
practice, as well as some old-fashioned
©2017, Kenneth R. Koehler. All Rights Reserved.